This post is part of the series of blogs investigating how the non-realization (or limited realization) of distributive justice claims experienced by the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society are dealt with in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

The Hungarian policy concerning female employment has been on a serious uphill struggle to find a balance between two contradicting principles: providing sufficient family allowances while maintaining labor market flexibility. This has lead in Hungary to an unsustainable employment policy. One of the problematic areas concerns the family policy, where the law maintains a higher than average parental leave scheme as a default option, while substantive amendments aiming to support young mothers to return to the labor market have created an obscure system with continuously changing regulations. Another fundamental problem is that labour law created a highly (and unnecessarily) flexible regime by reducing the minimum standards of employment, including protection against dismissal, and by broadening the margin of appreciation of employers in deciding terms and conditions of employment. Insecurity due to unclear rights and obligations of employers puts working parents in a vulnerable position at the workplace and increases existential fears.

Very long maternity leave with job protection and cash benefits are provided to mothers with a child under age of three. The Hungarian family policy clearly encourages mothers of young children to stay at home, an effect which is further amplified by the lack of flexible working opportunities. However, almost all benefits are contributory: linking family allowance entitlements to health insurance contributions, and its amount to previously earned wages, means that only families where mothers are employed can benefit, while unemployed women or women in low paid  or irregular jobs are clearly in disadvantageous positions. These changes foster an increasing polarisation of society to the advantage of middle-class families.

Traditional gender roles were already implicitly consolidated by the previous socialist governments; labour market access and political presence were not accelerated. Fathers are entitled to take only a five days long paternity leave, which is shorter than the EU average but fully compensated. The government explicitly aims to reserve the homemaker and mother role for women, and the breadwinner and decision maker position for men. This approach is reflected by employers’ attitude as well. All the interviewees confirmed that prejudice and discrimination against mothers with children, especially with small children, is very strong on the Hungarian labour market.

Although the employment of mothers with children increased in recent years, the impact of motherhood in reducing female labour market participation remains among the highest in the OECD. The overall percentage of women who are not planning to return to the labour as long as they receive family allowance is high by international comparison as well. The lack of child care facilities or the cost of it has, apparently, little influence on women’s decision on staying at home.

By Sára Hungler and Ágnes Kende
written for the ETHOS Project as Working Paper within D6.2
The cross country analysis is available at: